Living for Affirmation: Gen Z's Social Media Habits

Tim McMullen Founder and Executive Creative Director, redpepper

Posted on June 10th 2014

Living for Affirmation: Gen Z's Social Media Habits

I wake up and instinctively reach for my phone - gotta see what my networks have been up to since I put it down on the bedside table last night before dozing off. Running out the door, I grab my laptop - or my iPad if I haven’t had enough coffee yet to lug along the cumbersome laptop. During my walk, I text my besties to kickstart our continuous group thread. I stop to snap an Instagram pic of some tulips on campus (the Hudson filter, of course). This one’s gonna get a lot of likes. I Tweet. Hey, I have to tell my followers about the Freshman nose-diving off of his slackline.

This is the world in which GenZers live – and they navigate it like little Steve Jobs minions. They have status-, image-, and video-sharing networks and apps as well as direct messaging channels. There are several layers here – each feeding a thankless appetite in varying intensities.

What feeds this unsatisfiable hunger for more? Affirmation. The addictive reward that shapes the way we now communicate.

A GenZer and self-proclaimed “affirmation addict” named Elise wrote in HuffPost TEEN, “As human beings, [affirmation] is something essential to survival, however, my generation has taken it to another level. As a direct result of social media, we crave affirmation from our peers in the form of likes, favorites, shares, retweets, reblogs, and revines. Its almost as if we become irrelevant without loads of Internet attention.”

There is no shortage of theories out there – exploring the correlation between social channels and our reliance on and uses of them. These studies have been churning since the static radio days of the 40’s. At redpepper we have a theory called the Affirmation Effect. Put simply, the more convenient and personal the channel and the faster the response, the greater the affirmation (and thus, the more addictive the channel).   

“These chat apps have already undermined cell phone carriers’ traditional SMS text messaging, which declined for the first time ever in 2012,” says Victor Luckerson of TIME. “Now the big social networks see them as a threat too. [GenZers] don’t necessarily want to broadcast all their photos and messages to everyone they know. The world’s largest social network has acknowledged that usage among its youngest members is declining. Newer apps easily allow users to tailor who sees what, and for how long.”

The fastest and most personal platforms – direct messaging apps like SnapChat that are convenient and simple to use – deliver the strongest doses of affirmation. These platforms are focused. They have sharp corners. They do one thing and they do it well. And diluted networks like Facebook are now second string – making way for the Instagram-ers, Kik-ers, WhatsApp-ers out there.

“There is a very clear story with the big winners being closed messaging and video-and-photo sharing apps,” says Tom Smith, CEO of GlobalWebIndex.

A story expressed best (if we do say so ourselves) through this redpepper-approved Affirmation Effect Chart:

social media and affirmation


Tim McMullen

Founder and Executive Creative Director, redpepper

Tim is founder and Executive Creative Director of redpepper, a Nashville-based integrated ad agency that produces creative content and marketing promotions for brands like Claire's, Georgia Pacific, Kirkland’s, Oreck, John Deere and SVP Worldwide. redpepper meaningfully intersects brands with people’s lives by constantly exploring, experimenting with, and inventing new ways to engage through relevant marketing in this ever-changing world of technological and social habits

Tim currently speaks nationally to organizations such as American Marketing Association, Direct Marketing Association, and Nashville Advertising Federation on two topics he knows best: company culture and integrated marketing. Tim also spoke at the 2013 Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum. His insights have made their way to,, Retail TouchPoints, Chief Marketer and Forbes, just to name a few.

Tim was named 2010 Agency Marketer of the Year by the AMA Nashville chapter. He’s also a past president of the Nashville chapter of the American Advertising Federation.

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